Pandyas are mentioned in Sangam literature (c. 100 – 200 C.E.) as well as by Greek and Roman sources. Various Pandyan kings are mentioned in a number of poems in the Sangam literature. Among them, Nedunjeliyan (“the victor of Talaiyalanganam and Mudukudimi Peruvaludi (“of several sacrifices”) deserve special mention.
Besides, several short poems found in the Akananuru and the Purananuru collections, there are two major works, Mathuraikkanci and the Netunalvatai (in the collection of Pattupattu), that give a glimpse into the society and commercial activities in the Pandyan kingdom during the Sangam age.
It is difficult to estimate the exact date of these Sangam-age Pandyas. The period covered by the extant literature of the Sangam is unfortunately not easy to determine with any measure of certainty. With the exception of the longer epics Cilappatikaram and Manimekalai, which by common consent belong to the age later than the Sangam age, the poems have reached us in the forms of systematic anthologies.
The earliest Pandyan to be found in epigraph is Nedunjeliyan, who figures in the Minakshipuram record assigned from the second to the first centuries B.C.E. The record documents a gift of rock-cut beds to a Jain ascetic. Punch-marked coins in the Pandyan country dating from around the same time have also been found.
Nedunjeliyan I (c. 180 CE) was a Pandya king who is credited by the Sangam Age work Maduraikkanci with having won a battle against an Aryan (North Indian) army. Nedunjeliyan I was also the Pandya king of the epic Silappatikaram who later died of a broken heart. By Gajabahu synchronism, Nedunjeliyan I has been dated to about 180 CE and was a contemporary of the Chera king Senguttuvan.
The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (c. 60 – 100 C.E.) describes the riches of a “Pandian Kingdom”: …Nelcynda is distant from Muziris by river and sea about five hundred stadia, and is of another Kingdom, the Pandian. This place also is situated on a river, about one hundred and twenty stadia from the sea.…”
The Chinese biographer Yu Huan in his text Weilüe mentions the Kingdom of Panyue: “…The kingdom of Panyue is also called Hanyuewang. It is several thousand li to the southeast of Tianzhu (Northern India)…. The inhabitants are small; they are the same height as the Chinese…”
The Roman emperor Julian received an emissary from Pandya in about 361. A Roman trading center was located on the Pandyan coast (Alagankulam, at the mouth of the Vaigai River, southeast of Madurai).
The Pandyas also had trade contacts with Ptolemaic Egypt and, through Egypt, with Rome by the first century, with China by the third century. The first-century Greek historian Nicolaus of Damascus met, at Damascus, the ambassador sent by an Indian king “named Pandion or, according to others, Porus” to Caesar Augustus around 13 C.E.